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Non-Negotiables. Part two

We had a great Sunday at home yesterday. It was very productive yet very normal for us.

It was a slow wake-up morning for the house. I was probably up two hours before #4 and #5 woke up and asked if they could do “Wake up and Watch.”

“Wake up and Watch” is our weekend ritual where they can watch an episode of a show before coming downstairs.

The bigger kids trickled down the stairs to cuddle on the couch and get their breakfast ready. And by breakfast, I mean lunch. It was already noon at this point. It was a little overcast and asked if they could watch an episode of a show together as they ate. As they snuggled on the couch, I read and took a power nap in the hammock. Chris did the same in his arm chair.

After the nap, at around 1:00pm, the sky cleared a little and I jumped out of the hammock to make my Sunday declaration.

“Chore time!! Who’s going to help me with the new compost area? Who’s going to help Dad with the buckets? Who can clean up the front area? Let’s go!” They all slowly got up off the couch, with a bit of an eyeroll and maybe a little bit of a stomp. I think someone whispered “Dictator” under their breath. I put up my hair in a ponytail and we all got to work.

By 5:00pm, we were done.

How we all divided and conquered:

-#2 deep cleaned the kitchen and cleaned the bathrooms repeating our “towel” system to those who cared to pay attention, “People! Green towels are for shelves and blue towels are for drying!!!”
-#1 swept and mopped the floors, screaming every two seconds as she saw a random bug and with #3, cleaned up the front of the house where the dogs take garbage and rip things up to shreds
-#3 sorted through our shoe rack area and cleaned it up including making sure none of the rain boots had scorpions or other surprises
-#4 and Chris did the poo buckets (remember, we have no flushing toilets)
-Chris also put fencing up on another part of the house so the dogs couldn’t get out and chase animals; he also checked the water tanks to make sure there were no leaks; he also relocated a red-eyed tree frog that was making his home on our chair

-#5 and I spent time setting up a new compost area, planting some cuttings and some more pineapple, and I also helped him set up a small area on the side of the house for his seedlings; l also relocated a baby snake we found underneath a tarp

Our house is open to the jungle so it does take a village to keep it relatively de-junglefied. As we sat down eating our Sunday dinner of leftovers, we felt accomplished. I congratulated the family on the hard work and expressed my gratitude for the team effort. We started discussing creative ways to play Tetris with the space again and how to organize certain areas to best suit our changing needs.

Here is the daily chore chart that the kids need to check each morning. “Stations” are washing stations that we fill and use to wash dishes to conserve water. “Washing” is washing all dishes that aren’t personally used so any dishes used for cooking, this particular person helps to wash those dishes. We don’t have a dishwasher so our dish rack is always full and the person on dish rack needs to empty it several times a day. There are the pets to feed. I normally do the sweeping daily because I enjoy it. Chris does most of the cooking unless the kids decide they want to do it themselves which is half the time. In addition to this chore chart, the kids have to keep their rooms tidy, deep cleaning every couple of weeks.

Everyone has to get their daily chores done. We can all lounge on Sundays for a bit in the morning, taking our time to greet the day but in the end, chores have to get done and we do them together.

Today is another unsexy tip for homeschooling but is also one of my main non-negotiables being home with my kids: chores. Chores are one of the key components of homeschooling. I never expected how establishing this part of our rhythm would have so many beneficial side effects.

Sometimes we think our kids can’t do it or they won’t do it to our standards. Of course they won’t. At first. It takes practice and we need the patience to allow them to practice.

The secret to chores is consistency and adaptability:

  1. The same time of day everyone is doing chores.
  2. There is a system in place that everyone agrees to.
  3. The chores are developmentally appropriate.
  4. Everyone participates.
  5. There are consequences for unfinished chores.

Advice for Parents with Littles

We started early by buying mini brooms, mini dustpans and spray bottles. One of their favourite chores was cleaning the large mirror we had. They would have their little rag and spray bottle and clean that mirror – well half of it, only as far as they reached. There were really no consequences because they would do them when I was doing them and some normally stopped after ten minutes while others would finish when I finished.

Our rhythm has always allowed for eating together in the morning and clean up afterwards to signal that morning lessons were going to begin. Also eating together at dinner and clean up afterwards, ESPECIALLY making sure the French press is ready for early morning coffee. It’s the little things that make or break your time at home.

I started my kids early with doing chores. It was inadvertent. There was just so many of them that I needed their help. For an idea of what those early days were like, read about one of the wars I waged here. I needed to find a way they could help on a consistent basis. I didn’t want to nag or begrudge anyone in our house. There is always a lot of patience involved when setting up a system and tweaking it as they grow.

Advice for Parents with Older Children

Sometimes we don’t realize what are children are actually capable of doing because we have been doing things for them for so long. For example, I remember how I had been tying my son’s shoes without thinking and he finally said, “Mom, I can tie my own shoes…For about a year.”

When our kids were little, maybe around seven or eight years ago, we were having dinner at a friend’s house. She has three boys roughly the same age as our kids and when we lived in Toronto, we homeschooled our children together. I remember how after dinner we were going to help clean up the dinner table and our friends told us not to worry, the boys would clean. In fact, they cleaned the kitchen every night and still clean the kitchen every night now that they are 13, 15, and 18. It was amazing to me because I thought my kids were too young but they had a system in place that they consistently practiced with the kids until they were able to do it on their own. I quickly adopted the system in our family – putting leftovers away, washing cooking pans and pots, loading the dishwasher, wiping down the counter and table, and sweeping the floor.
(Shout out to Lara and Dan.)

It may take some time to do the chore with them in order to show them how it should be done. If they do it quickly without deliberate care and thought, you can go back and do it with them again and again. It will soon become a habit that they will eventually be able to do on their own. It is a game of wills and persistence. I can normally outlast anyone.

Advice for Parents with Teens

How do you get them to do chores? I imagine that it may take a little more patience and consistency on your part if you are starting chore commitments later in their lives. It takes time to change patterns and habits. I would suggest starting with a discussion. I used to tell my kids that I am not their personal housekeeper.

What chores do you need help with? Ask your teens how they think they could help and if they designed the chore chart, what would be fair for them? Start with dailies before giving weekly deep clean duties and set the parameters around when they need to have them done or give them options that they can choose from.

For example, our chore chart was created by the kids. I gave them the list of chores and they negotiated the days and frequency. I simply gave the parameter that I need someone to do these chores daily – in the morning and in the evening and sometimes throughout the day if we are using the kitchen a lot. Then they had a team meeting and negotiated their days. Some wanted to load their days with all the chores and have some days off and others wanted to spread them across the week. This type of negotiation works well if you have more than one child and they are old enough. Keep in mind that they didn’t negotiate with me or Chris. They negotiated with each other how to get what we needed them to do.

Be honest with them with what you need from them and create appropriate consequences. Maybe no one is allowed any screen time unless the chores are done. This is our rule for weekdays. Before they go to their room after dinner, we all have chores to tidy and clean the downstairs. “Independent time” is only allowed if chores are done. If you, the parent, does a lot of the cooking, your teenagers can be in the kitchen to help clean as you cook and then you can all enjoy dinner together with a clean kitchen.

Before including them in the discussion, answer these key questions for yourself:

What are your non-negotiables with chores? What chores do you absolutely need help with at the moment?

Dishes and the kitchen have always been my non-negotiable. I need help with that. Sweeping, floors, and bathrooms, even poo buckets when Chris needs help or is away – that’s my jam. On the other hand, Chris doesn’t mind cleaning up the dog vomit, the occasional dog accident in the house and disposing of the animal carcasses that the cats bring home.

My kids have learned what their own non-negotiables are as well. My second born that spent a year being a cleaner/server/barista in a restaurant has developed her own system of “kitchen clean“ and definitely wants the kitchen restaurant-grade clean. That’s her thing. Her room is another story.

Why Chores are a BIG part of our “Homeschool Curriculum”

At first, delegating chores were necessary to help me keep sane in a house with seven people. As the years went by, I realized how important chores were in contributing to practical life skills.

Work and Discipline

Here’s the kicker with chores, they don’t end. I mean you can choose not to do them and pay the consequences like a messy house or actually pay someone. You can hire a cleaning service which we have done before. With littles, it was worth it for me to hire someone once a month for a deep clean and most houses we rented here came with a cleaning service.

There are always daily things that the kids can still do – wash their dishes, tidy their stuff, and cook and clean the kitchen, clean mirrors, clean the bathroom counter and sink, sweep floors.

But they have to show up every day to maintain the house. They are also expected to do the work well. Maybe not restaurant-grade every time but enough to show they put some consideration into doing it right. And nothing feels better than accomplishing a chore you have been delaying – like sorting that drawer that people dump stuff in or the toilet or even their own room.


Cultivates Appreciation

Taking care of house and the stuff in it cultivates an appreciation for the time and money spent on it. No one dirties up the kitchen and walks away because they know that they appreciate when their siblings try to keep it tidy when it’s not their day to wash all the dishes. Rotating chores also helps them appreciate the work involved in keeping each component of the house functioning and tidy. They also appreciate what it feels like to live in a tidy room or living space or kitchen. Our house isn’t always the cleanest meaning we often have a layer of dirt or dust because of the dogs. But it certainly is very tidy.


Mindfulness Practice

I have mentioned before how much I love sweeping. It’s in the mundane that we find peace of mind and Beauty. Mopping, scrubbing, rinsing poo buckets. Repeat.


Prepares them for being an Adult

There is nothing more embarrassing as a parent when you send your child off into the world and they don’t know how to do their own laundry. (That was me. Sorry Mom.) These are skills that will make them an excellent roommate or partner. My eldest had a shock when she lived with roommates for the first time. None of them knew how to clean or keep tidy.

Team Work

There is a camaraderie that exists between siblings and parents when everyone plays Cinderella and not just one unlucky child. Working together toward a common goal – care of the house – motivates everyone to get it done instead of succumbing to laziness or feeling overwhelmed. They often help each other completing the bigger chores.

Last piece of advice: Be patient. (What else?) Be consistent and adaptable. And gold stars couldn’t hurt.

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